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Learning Languages on the Web—The First Places to Look


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Mark Twain once said “Never knew before what eternity was made for. It is to give some of us the chance to learn German.” And he’s right—learning a language is a lifetime process. The way we communicate is nuanced and the only way to be confident in your language abilities is to continually learn and practice your skills.

Sometimes that’s not so easy. We can’t all find native speakers to talk to or classes to attend in that language. It’s easy to forget how to speak a language if you don’t use it—but thanks to the Internet you won’t have to forget.

It’s easy to use the Internet like an immersion program—you can simply go to www.bbc.co.uk/mundo to read articles and watch videos in Spanish or visit any language-specific site. I try to read a BBCMundo article every few weeks—it lets me practice my Spanish and keeps me up to date on current events. You can use YouTube to find movies or TV shows in almost any language—watching media like that is a great way to hear the language and to learn colloquialisms.

Over years of language classes and online research, I’ve found a few sites that are my favorites to use for language learning. Firstly, www.talkabroad.com. While a paid service, if you really want to keep up on your language skills and the language you want to practice is not common enough where you live, TalkAbroad is the best choice. TalkAbroad pairs you up with a native speaker from somewhere in the world and you have a conversation with them in their language. The partners are really helpful and nice and willing to talk about everything—the first few minutes are awkward but once I warmed up it flowed amazingly. TalkAbroad was my first experience speaking in a real conversational setting, and it was incredible.

The next two sites are related: www.duolingo.com and www.memrise.com. Both sites offer free language courses that are simple and you complete on your own time. Because it’s so easy, I’m currently enrolled in courses in German and Italian (for no particular reason). But because it’s so freeform, commitment is up to you.

Finally, one of the most useful and well-known sites for learning just about anything is www.quizlet.com. Quizlet is just a digital flashcard machine—you enter vocabulary, phrases, questions, whatever—it makes a flashcard set, can fabricate a small test, and helps you learn your words. Quizlet is what you make it, and for many years I used it for Spanish vocabulary and for the past two I’ve used it for Mandarin (super useful). Quizlet also allows you to share your decks and look at any decks others have made—great for collaboration in language classes and for practicing on your own.

The Internet is an indispensable tool in the modern quest to learn languages. The global connectivity it provides gives all of us the means to learn new languages—all we have to do is seize the opportunity. Everyone has a different best way to learn a new language, but the web provides the tools to find that way. So do it! Take a random course in Russian. Talk to a citizen of Mérida. Review your Chinese characters. It’s all there, waiting for you out in cyberspace.

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